How EVs, iPhones, and Electricity’s Weirdness may Save the Grid

September 16, 2022

Rob Meyer in The Atlantic:

Electric vehicles may actually help the grid, Michael Wara, a scholar of climate and energy policy at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, told me.

Once you use an EV, “you immediately begin to understand that the way the charging works on these cars is designed to avoid exactly the kind of impacts that people are talking about, and is actually very beneficial to the grid,” said Wara, who described himself as “lucky enough to own a Tesla Model 3.”

“The car won’t charge between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.” unless you override it, he said. “The reality is either you charge at work, and then you’re done by 3. Or you get home, plug your car in, and it doesn’t draw from the grid until 11 o’clock. But you don’t care because you’re having dinner with your kids, then you go to sleep, and it charges.”

More and more appliances may soon work like this, especially if, as in California, time-of-use electricity rates become the default. (Under these plans, electricity is usually slightly more expensive in the early evening, when power demand is peaking but solar is beginning to fade.) Yesterday, Apple announced a new “Clean Energy Charging” feature that allows users to set their iPhones to charge during the parts of the day when the grid is most likely to be dominated by renewable sources.

But EVs will also cause demand for electricity to increase, Wara said, and that is likely to be a boon for utilities. For the past 15 years, electricity demand has been more or less flat. That has led overall investment in the basic infrastructure of the grid to lag. “We need to do all this grid investment because—forget about climate change—the grid is old and rickety,” he said. “But industries that don’t have growth can’t do investment.”

EVs will give utilities that opportunity for growth. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has projected that U.S. power generation will need to rise at least 25 percent by 2050 even if Americans don’t switch to electric vehicles very quickly. If Americans do flock to EVs, then power demand could rise as much as 72 percent. The Inflation Reduction Act’s generous tax credits for new solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear plants could also help spur utilities to turn over their fleets.

Electricity is the lifeblood of technical society. Two decades ago, the National Academy of Engineering ranked electrification as the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century, outranking the automobile (No. 2), the airplane (No. 3), and computers (No. 8). Yet of late the public’s understanding of energy has been treated as identical to its understanding of fossil fuels. That outlook must change: Nothing less than progress requires it.


In an update coming to iOS 16 later this year, Apple plans to add a new “Clean Energy Charging” option in the United States. The information was shared in Apple’s iOS 16 press release, and it says that clean energy charging will optimize charging times for when the grid is using cleaner energy sources.

With Clean Energy Charging, Apple is aiming to decrease the carbon footprint of the iPhone. This is the first we’ve heard of clean energy charging, and it’s not a feature that Apple has previously highlighted.

The wild card tech is “V2G” – or Vehicle to Grid technology, which allows “bidirectional” flow of electricity from grid to EV, or EV to grid in times of peak demand. The theoretical potential available in California is already significant, and could become a reality under new proposals.

Utility Dive:

The Vehicle-Grid Integration Council estimates that there is a total technical potential of about 5,000 MW in instantaneous load that could theoretically be used for “V1G” – or a unidirectional response to price signals, like a time-of-use rate or demand response program – in California today, according to Woogen. When it comes to “V2G,” or bidirectional capabilities, the state could see 469 MW of total technical potential just considering Nissan LEAF vehicles that are on the road today, he added. At a 5% participation rate, that offers 23 MW of potential net peak contributions.  

Bidirectional charging capabilities can provide EV customers with new sources of revenue as well as value, for instance as back-up power, Woogen said. The most costly component to get these benefits is the battery – “and in a sense, that’s already bought and paid for as a means of mobility. As a customer, you’re able to leverage an embedded cost and unlock latent battery capacity to squeeze additional value out of your fleet or your vehicle, if you would like to,” he added. 

“As electric vehicle adoption continues to grow, bidirectional charging technology has huge potential for supporting our customers and the electric grid broadly,” PG&E spokesperson Ari Vanrenen said in an emailed statement.


2 Responses to “How EVs, iPhones, and Electricity’s Weirdness may Save the Grid”

  1. mtpccl Says:

    As with a lot of new ideas, especially those that can be politically manipulated, we need to anticipate the negative reactions and “innoculate” the public with the cost saving benefits of “time of use” electricity rates.

    Several years ago when the local utility was installing updated meters, I overheard a woman telling her friend that she didn’t want anyone telling her when she could run her dishwasher.

    A recent poll by Yale Climate Communications showed more people, both Republicans and Democrats, were persuaded by cost savings messages more than economy/jobs or global warming messages.

    Onward ho.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    All this talk about EVs increasing grid demand makes it obvious most people have absolutely no clue what’s needed or what’s coming. The only way to renewablize is to electrify primary energy, which in most countries is 3 or 4 times the grid. Half will be saved because electric motors are more efficient than burning things, & only a small fraction of current mining & transporting etc. is needed without fuels.

    “But industries that don’t have growth can’t do investment.”

    Yes, we already know industry has to change. Utilities have to transform voluntarily or be gutted & remade. Fossil fuel, rail, agro-chemical, media, & banking industries & recalcitrant ICEV corporations need to be nationalized. Those responsible for decades of lying have to be prosecuted & only saved from prison by a Truth & Reconciliation process in which they confess every part of that. The US needs a new Constitution—& not the one Charles Koch has planned for it. Capitalism, the tool of malignant egophrenia, has to be abandoned if civilization & nature are to survive. That disease—addicted malignant narcissism, unbalanced ultra-conservatism, Wetiko disease—has to be healed, & institutions to prevent its generation & spread have to be formulated from ancient wisdom.

    There are no non-radical solutions that have any hope of succeeding.

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